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Meet the Velvets

Ironing Velvets

Speaking of ironing….. There’s a funny fact about all velvets. They’re easy to ruin with an iron. That’s because irons are good at making things flat, and velvet only works because it has a pile that sticks up. Iron it, and it looses all that depth. To properly iron velvet, you need something called a needle board. These look like carding cloth, a description that makes no sense if you’re not into fiber arts. Imagine a barbie-scale bed of nails, and you’ve pretty much got it. The idea is that you put your velvet pile down, and the little wires support the fabric while allowing the pile to hand freely so it can’t be crushed by the iron. They work great, but they’re expensive little beasts and they really only do two things: let you press velvet, and attract every stray bit of thread and fiber into their little wirey selves, where it will become inexorable and forevermore stuck.

Of course, if you’re a cheapskate from a family filled with cheapskate seamstresses, you know the trick about using a big fluffy towel in place of a needle board…. ;) (You should try this with scraps before you commit to doing it with anything you like. It takes a light touch,) You can also iron from the back against nothing. I mean, literally work from the back of a suspended piece of velvet, holding it taut (toes are useful here, as you’re going to run out of hands very quickly, and allow tension and the iron to do their thing. Depending on fiber content, you can use a garment steamer from the back to accomplish the same, with fewer limbs.

Works Cited

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560 – 1620. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1985.

Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. Leeds: W. S. Maney & Son Ltd, 1988.

Betzina, Sandra, Fabric Savvy. Newtown, CT, The Tauton Press, Inc, 1999.

Kadolph, Sara J., and Anna L. Langford. Textiles. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc, 2002.

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  1. Monique
    Monique January 3, 2011

    It’s interesting that you should post such an article as I have been noticing of late the shine of fabrics portrayed in portraits of the Renaissance period. You can definitely tell the difference between the satin/silk/taffeta shine (or the “thinner” fabrics) and velvet shine mostly based on how they lay on the wearer. An example from Bella’s website:

    I’ve seen more, but my 15 min break at work just ran out! :

    • missa
      missa January 3, 2011

      Yeah…. I’ve thought for a while that those velvets were awfully shiny, but it’s sort of apocrypha to mention in some circles… But then I had my hands on a real, live, bonafide sample, and I thought I could probably back the claim up. ;) Thanks for sharing the link, Mo!

  2. […] “Meet the Velvets” is the first page of a six page series on using velvet fabrics for historical costuming use, with a great deal of excellent information on different fiber and fiber blend velvets currently available, by Missa at Sempstress. […]

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